From one big hill to another. Richmond Hill resident Tony Malcolm shares his thoughts on becoming a chateau owner in Gros Puy (big hill).
Now, I’m more Straw Dickbridge than Dick Strawbridge and although having more in common with Peter Mayle, who was a copywriter like me, neither of these two well known Brits inspired my own foray into owning a château deep in the French countryside.
My better half and I have long held the dream of owning a French residence with the view to perhaps moving there in retirement.
We have holidayed many times in France in lots of different regions, and the lifestyle, cuisine and not least of all, the red wine, have always lured us back over the years.
We’ve built many family memories of long balmy days amongst the vineyards, cathedrals, menhirs, fantastic beaches and stunning scenery. There’s something about the all-pervading atmosphere there that puts me at ease, connects me back to nature and helps me wind down from the stresses and strains of working in the City. Even the strong whiff of Gitanes and cheese that greet you as soon as you drive off the ferry or walk out of the plane is evocative of that laid-back Gallic life.
This deeply felt amour prompted us to take long weekends and breaks, looking in earnest for that dream property as a home away from home.
It was always a joy and never a chore to venture into remote French villages to meet estate agents (most of them ex-pats) and with a fixed budget in mind, drive to see the exotic and eclectic maisons on offer.
It is staggering what you can buy in terms of size and features for less than half the price of a one-bedroom flat in Richmond. Character properties are being abandoned by the French in preference of modern, state-of-the-art residences with all mod cons. The properties they leave behind can be snapped up for a pittance.
We saw places that had swimming pools, albeit with trees growing in the middle of them and overgrown with brambles, dilapidated stables, huge dining halls, cavernous barns ready for conversion, acres upon acres of land with lakes and outbuildings and all manner of decorative additions that made our eyes widen in wonder.
Our eldest daughter had her wedding at a beautiful château close to Bordeaux which, although hard work to organise, was totally idyllic and will live long in the memory banks.
Perhaps that planted the seed that nothing less than a château would do, but it wasn’t what we set out to buy. Our château was basically the mystery house that the estate agents thought they’d show us, even though it was slightly outside of our budget. The home we thought we’d snap up, built around an elegant cobbled courtyard with stained glass windows with a swimming pool, outbuildings and large barn, was too close to a busy road and traffic noise was a definite no-no.
It was a bitter disappointment, but when we were later shown a château outside a village called Abjat-sur-Bandiat, we looked at each other in that ‘are you feeling it’ type of way.
The owners had decorated it in an eccentric way, but looking past that at the possibilities, with its 13th century chapel, huge bedrooms, anti-clockwise granite stairs climbing three storeys of a turret with views over a valley populated with lakes, forestry and a field of six donkey’s, it was always going to appeal to a creative family.
It sits regally in 1.5 acres of its own land, and the surrounding land and lake are retained by the current owners, who have offered us first refusal if they ever decide to sell.
There is a strong possibility that Richard The Lionheart will have visited the château and it is steeped in history that even attracts groups to visit on guided tours. There is a strange neighbour who has attempted to tell us about historic events, including battles, but our French is too rudimentary to understand it all.
By way of pictures, I will try and bring to life here in RiverTribe the challenges and triumphs of owning a château. Brexit will no doubt throw up some unforeseen obstacles, but the Malcolm Clan have no regrets about becoming château owners in ‘Dordogneshire’!
More and more Brits are taking the plunge and leaving the UK for the rustic charms of living in rural France. A Year in Provence and Escape to the Château have fuelled that desire to live the dream, which can at times become a bit of a nightmare.
As residents of Richmond Hill, this stunning and historic place takes some beating. We are blessed to have found a place that can drag us away from it in summer. We even spotted wild deer roaming through the valley from the terrace…
A proper home from home, or more accurately, a great big home away from a far smaller home.